Category Archives: Heart Upon Sleeve
Passion is one of the core values of my life and very often, I spill my heart best through words.
I have decided to take a mental break from preparing 14 messages (pray for me!) for this weekend’s Redeem Conference, next week’s youth camp at Elim Church and next weekend’s R-AGE Leaders Advance to record some fresh thoughts. Let’s see where this verbiage takes me…
A few times throughout the day, Huiyi will send me picture updates of Eden’s daily activities. She receives these pictures from her mother, who is Eden’s main caregiver from Tuesdays to Fridays.
And I have observed that more often than not, my typical replies to these lovely photos are, “I miss my family!” and “Love you so much!”, and not so much of responding to what Eden is actually doing in the photos.
Today, Eden’s 公公 and 嬷嬷 brought her to Jurong Bird Park. Eden looks so adorable in the photos and Huiyi commented that our baby girl “has such an awesome life”.
I wholeheartedly agreed with my wife. But there was a tinge of melancholy in my “Indeed!” reply.
As I thanked God for how blessed Eden is, a part of me yearns to be playing with her at the Bird Park instead of writing sermons in front of my laptop.
I found myself living vicariously through these daily photos.
I imagined myself taking those pictures and getting Eden to smile for the camera; I pictured myself pushing Eden in her stroller through the midday heat; I envisioned myself cradling Eden in my right arm, kissing her all over and littering her ears with, “Darling, Daddy loves you so much!”
Yes, I was truly experiencing life with Eden in my imagination through the actions of my in-laws.
And it got me thinking about the irony of parenting in Singapore; it is as if we bring our children into this world to have them being cared for by other people, and for them to spend time away from us.
When we are younger and more energetic, we have to work to earn money for our livelihood, and be away from our children. But when we are older and less spritely, we have enough money and all the time in the world, but our children have also all grown up! Surely there’s a way around this tension that I haven’t yet discovered?
My mother-in-law commented a few months ago that she is so much more active in Eden’s life than in her own children’s stage of infancy. She also said that that statement holds true for my father-in-law.
Both Huiyi and I were cared for by our grandmothers; I believe many of us in Singapore were taken care of by our grandparents and that (good) tradition seems to pass on from generation to generation.
As much as Huiyi and I are grateful for the tremendous support that we receive from our parents, we desire so much more to be Eden’s main caregivers instead. We are, after all, her parents — I mean, who wants to spend time with her more than us?
But the reality is, I have a day job (which I am most thankful for, because I enjoy what I do for a living) and by keeping it, I am fulfilling the other part of being a father by providing for my family.
On weekdays, Huiyi and I will only have about five hours with Eden — two in the morning and three in the evening. That is why, as working parents, we cherish weekends so much.
And that is why I treasure my off days that much more now because that’s the exclusive time I get to spend with my beloved princess and create memories for the both of us. On Mondays, I do not have to live vicariously through images on a mobile phone.
Every precious moment with my daughter is locked into my heart forever. I will never give up anything for time with her.
Oh man, I am getting emotional writing this…
I’m forcing myself to do this before I sleep so that I don’t sink into an unexplainable post-sermon depression; yes, once again I feel like I’ve preached the worst sermon of my life. And this is one of the lowest moments in my short journey as a preacher.
1. 322: our highest attendance for a combined youth service in a very long time. The GII Sanctuary was packed and buzzing with energy indeed.
2. 29: the highest number of newcomers for a youth service – proud of our youths who brought their friends and those who had the courage to invite.
3. 6: first-time salvations. And countless rededications. Without a doubt everything that happened tonight must be credited to God. All honour to Him alone.
4. Stella and Caleb: respectively, the brain behind the creative concept (we took a risk with this format of Easter) and the hands that helped the brain bring the plan come to life.
5. Swift: reading their praise reports on whatsapp and rejoicing with them for the success they experienced tonight with their region – something they really needed for all the hard work they’ve out in.
6. Worship: I could really sense the comforting presence of the Lord tonight and that the R-AGErs were so sincere in their response to God. Nell did a good job too – this young lady has a real anointing. One of those evenings where you wished you could linger a little longer.
7. Performers and crew: they just get younger and younger, don’t they? The average age of the youths serving and making a contribution across the board has lowered and their potential excites me. This X team was so committed and dedicated to their roles; they really pulled off something massive.
8. Soon Huat, his team of cleaners and the youths’ parents: for being so patient and understanding although we ended so late. My sincere apologies for that. I hope it doesn’t happen again.
9. Huiyi: who patiently and painstakingly encouraged, counselled and assured me from the moment I left the stage all the way until now. I cannot imagine sinking into this pit without her by my side. Thank you for praying for me and embracing me in my moment of weakness.
10. God: that He would even use a wretched, broken and untalented pastor like me to preach His Word, and was gracious enough to even send Yixian to encourage and pray for me – I didn’t deserve that. Father, I’m sorry for tonight. I’ll do better next time. Thank You for Your faithfulness and for showing up tonight – it would have been disastrous if You didn’t. All glory belongs to You.
It has been a humbling and forgettable night. In Jesus’ name, please take these negative thoughts and feelings away from me.
Okay, I need to sleep now.
I struggle to pray, not just today, but everyday.
It is impossible to stay on the path of holiness unless I have the enabling grace of God; and yet so often I depend on my strength to become strong in God – what a tragic paradox. Perhaps my carnality compels me to do that instinctively because I do not understand the grace of God intimately and experientially.
The psalmist beckons me to depend on God to:
- Give me life
- Teach me His statutes
- Make me understand
- Strengthen me
- Put false ways far from me
- Teach me His law
- Let me not be put to shame, and
- Enlarge my heart
Perhaps this is only possible if I:
- Tell Him my ways
- Meditate on His works
- Choose the way of faithfulness
- Set His rules before me
- Cling to His testimonies
- Run in the way of His commandments
Holy Spirit, please help me to quicken my spiritual senses; I need You to help me pray unceasingly. I desire to seek the Lord before I embark on every task so that I can regularly reorientate my focus. I boldly ask You to help me by reminding me, so that I may respond by remembering to pray, and eventually relying on You becomes a required routine of my life.
No Facebook, Twitter and Instagram? No problem. No Football Manager? No problem. No unedifying words? No problem. No air-conditioning? No problem. No meat, sugar, snacks and tidbits? No problem. But no morning coffee? Oh I felt its absence as early as the second hour into the lecture.
I have three lists: start doing, stop doing and still doing. It’s easy to stop, hard to start but hardest to be consistent.
I know it’s only the first day, but I’m ultra-Sanguine about what I want to achieve and I need the Lord to still my heart in pacing myself. Am I disappointed because I failed to do what I had set out to do today? Perhaps. But what I want to be disappointed about is that I didn’t, couldn’t and haven’t met Christ today. I am reminded that it’s not about accomplishments for Christ but about alignment to Christ.
God is faithful – what I had contemplated upon this past week was confirmed in the first lecture on spiritual direction; I am certain that my maiden Quadregesima will alter my spiritual life forever. I go to bed tonight with a plethora of expectations soaked in optimism but littered with potentially prideful intentions. Oh may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing unto You, O Lord my Rock and my Redeemer.
Jesus, I’m here to meet with You, won’t You come and meet with me? I want to taste a morsel of Paul’s experience when he said, “For me to live is Christ!” May You be centralised in my life all over again.
Although I shared these leadership axioms with my leaders and shepherds after turning them out at 4am (!) to clean the entire church, I believe these principles that I’ve observed over the years in my leadership journey stands true in any context of leadership.
- Leadership is not your right – you didn’t do anything to deserve this position. By faith, you were appointed to take on the privileged position of leadership, through the grace of God.
- Signing a leadership covenant is mutually bonding. This means that you remain committed even if the other party fails to be. (Context: this leadership covenant signing is Phase III of my 4-year strategy to move the leadership selection process from default, to deliberation, to decision and finally for Phase IV later this year, to desire. More on that in separate post…)
- Your most important responsibility as a leader is to stay close to God and keep growing in Christ to become more like Him and to do His will.
- Leadership = Lead Your Sheep. This essentially means four things: love God, learn from your shepherds and mentors, lead your youths in grace, godliness and growth and lay aside your personal preferences for the sake of the ministry.
- Leadership is about committing your time, talent and treasure to the Lord for the sake of the ministry and your personal growth.
- Leadership is about being a part of the solution and not adding to the problem.
- Remember that you are a leader everywhere. Not just with your youths, but with your peers in leaders’ meetings, as a student in school, as an employee in the workplace and as a child at home.
- Leadership is dirty work – get ready for unglamourous, unpleasant and unpredictable times. Through this dirty work, you will be presented with opportunities to know yourself and your sheep. It will inconvenience you – that’s the price you pay.
- Sometimes, leadership is without recognition – people may not always know what you have done for them or the extent you’d go to serve them. That’s why you must always be secure in the Lord – for He’s the one who rewards you in secret the good things you’ve done in secret.
- Sometimes, the task of leadership can be beyond your understanding. In moments like these, learn to submit, be faithful and persevere, so that you can experience the fruit of your effort and the blessings of God. We’re called not to unconditional obedience but to unconditional submission. (More on that in another post.)
- Leadership is about taking initiative and following things through. It is about clearing up after each other – even when you’re the not the one who’s at fault but got dragged into the situation.
- Leadership is about being together and exceeding expectations. It’s easier to do the latter when we accomplish the former; it’s easier when everyone plays their part.
Unity is important because Christianity is not meant to be done alone, but with the your immediate family, your church family and spiritual family of other believers worldwide. I believe this meeting in Luke 1, between a teenager and geriatric, is one of the most important in the Bible and teaches us a lot about unity.
1. Unity requires being humble in spirit (Luke 1:26-38)
With the Messiah in her belly, Mary could have behaved arrogantly and acted like she knew everything, but the she demonstrated her humble spirit in the way she followed the instructions of Gabriel to a T – carefully, diligently and quickly. Her statement of faith was also astounding; she barely knew what she was in for and yet she said to Gabriel, in effect, “Use me anyway you want, even in the lowliest manner because I believe in God!”
Elizabeth, however, who was also miraculously pregnant with one of the most important characters in Jewish history no less, was just as humble in spirit. I think it takes a ton of humility for a reputable old lady like Elizabeth to acknowledge a teenager without any reputation and that the baby in her to be greater than her own.
When we humble ourselves before each other and relate without needing to prove anything, there’s a sense of identity and camaraderie. Talking to each other about what Jesus is doing in our lives builds our faith and deepens our fellowship.
2. Unity requires making things happen (Luke 1:39-41)
Since Mary had no clue what Elizabeth had experienced, she took two steps of faith that day: to believe that she was going to be pregnant without sexual intercourse and that an old woman was six months pregnant. Her steps of faith (pun unintended) to travel around 160km from Nazareth in Galilee to Hebron in Judea shows us her willingness to make things happen. I wondered what she must have pondered over as she made that journey, since she couldn’t confirm that Elizabeth was pregnant until she saw her for herself.
Elizabeth had no idea that she was going to receive a visitor that day, or that the visitor was Mary, or that Mary would be pregnant with the Saviour of the world! So for Elizabeth to greet Mary so spontaneously, she must have received a revelation and acted upon it. With her act of faith, she brought the both revelations to a full circle. She went on, in effect, to repeat what Mary said to Gabriel, “You are blessed because you believed the Lord would do what He said.”
Mary greeted Elizabeth in faith and Elizabeth responded to Mary in faith. Extraordinary revelations require extraordinary faith and obedience, and produces extraordinary results.
3. Unity requires honouring others above yourself (Luke 1:42-45)
Elizabeth congratulated Mary (“God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed”), condescended herself before Mary (“Why am I so honoured, that the mother of my Lord should visit me?”), confirmed Mary’s encounter with Gabriel (“When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy”) and commended Mary (“You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said”). All that must have levelled up Mary’s faith!
Elizabeth could say all that Mary because six months ago, she did the same thing in faith. If we do not deserve the favour that God shows us, we shouldn’t envy those the Lord has given more favour. Moreover, those who have personally experienced God’s faithfulness would naturally encourage others to put their faith in God.
4. Unity requires hanging on until it comes to pass (Luke 1:56)
Mary didn’t leave after that encounter but stayed with Elizabeth for three months before she returned home. I think she wasn’t there just to help a relative through the crucial months of pregnancy but perhaps to see through God’s promises surrounding both of them. I’m not sure if she witnessed the birth of John the Baptist but I know she definitely saw enough to know that Elizabeth was ready to go into labour.
Being a part of Elizabeth’s life in the first three months of her own pregnancy must have given her courage when she eventually returned to Nazareth to ready herself for the next six months of a gossip-filled, doubt-inducing, fear-instilling and awe-inspiring pregnancy. She was probably visibly pregnant but she was definitely convinced, comforted and convicted of the miracle that was about to take place through her. Through Mary’s care-giving with Elizabeth, God must have done some faith-strengthening with Mary.
What does unity look like and what stops us?
Unity is when all of us worshipping God with abandon; so don’t worship Him with arrogance, thinking you know better. Unity is when all of us are acting out our faith with obedience; so don’t respond with indifference, waiting for someone else to do what God has called you to do. Unity is when all of us are serving each other with selflessness; so don’t let your ego get in the way, putting your needs first.
I believe that the sole purpose of these two unbelievable pregnancies is found in Luke 1:37. To prove that nothing is impossible with God and that no man should take the credit for a miracle of God. If a virgin like Mary and a geriatric like Elizabeth can give birth, then surely God can bring revival to R-AGE, for nothing will be impossible with God.
It’s a lofty dream but I know one day, by faith, it will come to pass. I believe with all my heart that when revival comes to R-AGE, it won’t be through a large corporate fire, but through the small fires that we fan daily. I believe it with all my heart and I will hang on to it until it comes to pass or until God tells me I won’t see it in my time as a youth pastor.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” — Matthew 5:3
I have mixed feelings about tonight’s prayer meeting.
Please do not misunderstand me; I sincerely believe that every prayer offered in those 60 minutes was uttered with the right intentions – to honour God, to spur each other on in the faith and to intercede for Grace AG.
But honestly, amidst the spiritual euphoria that was brewing in the room, typical of any church activity after a spirit-rousing church camp, I believe with all my heart that the way to sustain your post-retreat afterglow is tell yourself that you CANNOT do it on your own. That was what the Lord impressed upon my heart halfway through J333.
So young people (and adults alike), before you go around thinking you can spread the fire to those who didn’t go for the retreat, consider this instead: the way to prevent spiritual arrogance and complacency, and to promote spiritual growth and maturity, is to advance with humility on bended knees.
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” — Psalm 51:17
The truth is, we can’t do it on our own. At least, that’s what I’ve learnt after 15 years of attending Grace Retreats. And quite frankly, I’m predicting the same eventual deflated outcome for you if you are intending to depend on your own efforts.
Therefore, I submit to you my honest thoughts. Serve other people and consider their needs before yours, ask the Holy Spirit to empower you, and be humble and the Lord will lift you up.
“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” — James 4:7-10
Ps Julie Khoo gave an altar call last night and I responded to it – my first time at the altar since AIYS 2012 started. I asked God to confirm the things He had been putting in my heart because the weight was too heavy to bear by myself. I shared this burden with Brian, Jamie and a couple of others whom I shared meals with. I needed the Lord to give me strength, courage and wisdom.
In that 15 minutes kneeling down, two people came to pray for me; I recognised Ps Julie’s voice and I caught sight of a pair of red sneakers and realised it belonged to her assistant, Ps Danny Tan. Both of them had only arrived the day before and had no idea what God was doing and stirring in my heart the past week.
As I stepped forward, I wasn’t emotional at all, as expected – that’s just how I am. But I had faith; I knew God would speak to me. So I asked the Lord to help me remember this altar call experience.
Ps Julie and Ps Danny won’t know this until I tell them – both of them prayed identical things over me. And along with what the Lord had already revealed in my heart, I saw a complete picture of what’s next for me and what’s stopping me from getting there. Ps Julie prophesied over me almost immediately and described the vision she saw. When she laid her hands on me moments later, I broke down; I will never forget how the Lord broke my heart for R-AGE, its leaders and the campuses in Singapore. I had faith that God would speak, but I didn’t expect myself to weep this way.
With a new found confidence, I returned to my seat to record what I had received from the Lord. Amidst the seven things God revealed through Ps Julie and Ps Danny, I remember receiving this personal revelation as I walked back to my row:
“My burden is greater than my fear.
Your glory is greater than my burden.”
I skipped the after-service fellowship and retreated to my room. And as I wanted to remember that God gave this to me when I was in the Philippines, I opened up Google to translate that line into Tagalog, and posted it as my Facebook status:
“Aking pasanin ay mas malaki kaysa sa aking takot.
Ang iyong kaluwalhatian aymas malaki kaysa sa aking pasanin.”
The next morning, just before the second session began, I read aloud the Tagalog translation to my Filipino friend, Ps Welfert, just to share with him what God had done with me last night.
With tears welling up in his eyes, he told me that what I’ve read to him were actually lyrics from a Filipino worship song called, “Salamat Panginoon”! The essence of the song is about how God’s presence is bigger than my struggles, pains and worries, and how great favour will come with the Lord because He is control of what’s going on.
I WAS BLOWN AWAY.
It was a powerful moment for the both of us. Welfert got emotional as he shared the meaning of the song with me. God ministered to the two of us there and then – what a divine revelation and confirmation!
God is good, so good. And He is faithful – I know He will go before me. My confidence in the Lord for the task ahead is rising! Praise the Lord for the spiritual monument that He’s building in my life through AIYS 2012.